We are often told that we need to tune out distractions and focus on what’s important.
But how do you determine what is truly important and worthy of your attention?
Here is the 4-step process I live by to achieve supreme focus and maximize impact:
Step 1: Mindfully experience and absorb
The first step to focusing is actually doing research. In this phase, you want to mindfully experience and absorb as much information as possible, and begin to form opinions about what really matters.
This is like reading a business book with a highlighter. You are reading the entire book and absorbing as much as possible, but also noting along the way what resonates with you. You will not be able to retain all of the book’s information, so you mindfully start to disregard the fluff and identify the substance. At the end of step 1 (or at the end of the book in this example), you will have taken in a lot of information, and will end up with a series of highlighted passages reminding you of what you found to be meaningful.
Another example would be joining a new company in a managerial position. In your first 30 days on the job, it would be unwise to make major changes before you really know what’s going on. Instead, you want to take an inventory of the current strategies and tactics being used by the team, and start to form opinions about what is impactful to achieve your group’s overall objectives. At the end of this phase, you will have some hypotheses about the high-impact initiatives.
A third example would be a talented young athlete who tries a variety of sports. This would be like LeBron James playing basketball, football, and baseball as a 12-year old and starting to think about which ones he wants to continue in high school.
Step 2: Distill
At this point, you have taken in a lot of information and formed some initial hypotheses about what is important.
Step 2 is when you really start to narrow things down. This means you need to go back through your initial findings, and pit them up against each other to see what is important enough to continue moving forward.
This is when you go back through all of the highlighted passages from the business book and turn them into a tight one-pager of your key takeaways. By now you have gone from a 200-page book at the beginning, to 30 pages of highlights after step 1, to just one page of what you really need to know by the end of step 2. This step requires you to be more ruthless about what truly matters.
In the corporate example, after your full onboarding period as a new manager, step 2 is when you look over the team’s initiatives and determine which ones are truly worthy of continuing. In business circles, this is an example of the 80/20 principle, where 80% of your results are driven by the top 20% of your initiatives. Those are the 20% that you need to determine in this step and ensure that they continue (while reducing or eliminating the other 80%).
This step is when LeBron James would focus on just two sports in high school — basketball and football — since he excelled at both (in case you didn’t know, James was a spectacular high school football player in Ohio, setting records as a sophomore and junior that still stand).
Step 3: Find the One
By now you have absorbed a lot of information, narrowed the path forward, and now it’s time to boil it all down to one. This is the ultimate sacrifice that is needed for true focus (and ultimately true greatness).
Of all of the things you have seen and experienced, what is the single most important?
What is the single life-changing insight that came out of that business book? Of all the useful tips and tricks, what is the one that will truly change the game? You need to go back through your one-pager and identify the one.
What is the one thing that your company or department does better than anyone else, or that produces truly exponential results? You have taken the full inventory, narrowed it down, and now it’s time to go even further to find the one thing that truly sets you apart. Find the one and declare it.
This is LeBron James deciding to forego football as a senior in high school in order to focus exclusively on basketball. Of all the sports he sampled, basketball was the one.
Step 4: Amplify
You have made the ultimate sacrifice and found the one. Of all the things you could do, you have finally arrived at the one thing you should do. Now is the time to make that one thing as big as possible.
Plaster that one life-changing insight from the book all over your house and office. Make sure you see it all the time so it stays top of mind and permeates your life. Tell your friends and colleagues about it and champion that insight by writing or speaking about it. Talk about how that one insight is changing your life, and see if it can do the same for others.
Double down on your one thing at the office. You have finally found the most important thing your company or team does. Stop sprinkling your resources among many small things and invest behind that one big thing instead. Amplify, maximize, and make sure the world knows about it. Once you really know what works, stop being conservative. Go big.
LeBron James went big behind his one thing. He has now earned over $233 million in his NBA career and has become one of the greatest basketball players of all time. Of course this could not have happened if he did not focus and hone his craft. He has an unrivaled work ethic, working around the clock every single day to maximize his health and his on-court skills. That is the type of religious dedication that is needed to magnify your one thing.
There is simply no way to focus on and amplify everything. You need to go through a process to get there. You need to start by mindfully experiencing and researching, then narrow things down, and then arrive at the one thing that is most worthy of your attention.
But you can’t stop there.
Once you find that one thing, it’s time to double down and go big.
If you do that, you can truly achieve greatness.